When an open source advocate, open standards advocate, or, well, pretty much anyone that competes with Microsoft (news, site) sees an extended hand from the software giant toward better interoperability, they tend to look and see if the other hand's holding a spiked club.

Even so, the Redmond, WA company continues to push the message that it has seen the light regarding open standards and interoperability.

Microsoft and Interoperability

The Microsoft Interoperability Group has indeed been busy. Between the following, it's hard to argue that Microsoft isn't trying:

  • Maintaining a web site dedicated to Microsoft's open source initiatives and improving interoperability between Microsoft products and everyone else's (open source included)
  • The Microsoft NXT program to help open source ISVs extend their products to run on Microsoft technologies
  • The Microsoft Web Application Installer
  • Oxite
  • Supporting the Apache Software Foundation
  • Participating in the PHP project so that PHP will run better on Windows
  • Open sourcing ASP.NET MVC 1.0
  • IronRuby, Ruby for the Microsoft .NET framework
  • IronPython, Python for the Microsoft .NET framework
  • Opening protocols for Microsoft Office, Microsoft Office SharePoint Server and other key Microsoft properties

In part, these moves are driven by their Interoperability Executive Customer (IEC) Council, a group of over 35 CIOs and CTOs from governments and corporations worldwide. This council has identified six areas they see as vital barriers for interoperability:

  • Office Productivity and Collaboration Tools
  • Developer Tools and Runtime
  • Systems management
  • Security and identity Management
  • Business Process modeling
  • Interoperability Policy

One project led to through this group was for the Portuguese government's Agency for the Modernization of the Public Administration. Microsoft worked with them to create an interoperability framework that would allow people to access legacy systems running Linux, AIX, HP/UX and Windows with a single sign-on.

Another notable project is Moonlight, the open source Silverlight for Linux built by Novel with Microsoft's cooperation.

Conflicting Messages Inside and Outside Microsoft

Microsoft's Craig Shank, General Manager of the Microsoft Interoperability Group, says that, "Increasing globalization, rising Internet use and higher consumer and business expectations are driving increased demand for technology choice and flexibility." However, he and other open source proponents at Microsoft have to compete against conflicting messages from other voices at the company and an aggressive legal stance regarding protection of intellectual property and patents.

More and more governments at all levels, such as the entire UK government and the French Gendarmerie, are committing to open source and open standards on a broad level. Many businesses and other organizations are moving more to free and open source solutions as they try to stretch shrinking budgets.

What may be happening is that Microsoft is simply seeing the writing on the wall: play ball and make sure your software works with other solutions, or you will become irrelevant.

However, there are those that feel that Microsoft is attempting to draw open source developers into porting their software to Windows and therefore making it less likely that people will feel the need to turn to Linux.

Consistency in Message is Critical

Only time will tell if this trend toward an open Microsoft (when they're not filing patent lawsuits) will continue. But as everyone waits to see which side of Microsoft will ultimately be left standing, at least customers can enjoy the benefits.

For example, the release of protocols for many popular Microsoft products enabled Alfresco to integrate its Alfresco Share solution with Microsoft SharePoint, even replace it.

If Microsoft is truly embracing open source as part of its business strategy, then consistency in message and action will be required to build trust. While many open source advocates may question their motives, at the very least there's no denying that Microsoft is putting its money and its efforts after its new "open for open source business" words.